Thrush and breastfeeding: What are the symptoms of thrush and what is the best treatment?

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  • Thrush can affect your baby when you're breastfeeding, but do you know what are the symptoms of the condition and how to treat it?

    Breastfeeding comes with its own set of challenges, and thrush can be one of them when you’re trying to feed your baby.

    You’re probably already familiar with the condition, as vaginal thrush is very common in women, but the condition can also affect your baby’s mouth and your nipples.

    We asked Dr Prudence Knight, a GP for Push Doctor GP, the most common questions about thrush and breastfeeding, so you know exactly how to spot the symptoms and what the best treatment is.

    Thrush and breastfeeding: What are the causes of thrush?

    Thrush is caused by a fungus called candida albicans, which lives naturally in our guts and does not usually cause any problem. However, it can multiply excessively in certain conditions, which is what causes thrush.

    The fungus is also found in combination with lots other bugs in the vagina and babies acquire it during or shortly after birth just from coming into contact with people.

    Babies can also get thrush if their breastfeeding mum has nipple thrush, which is passed on to their mouth, or they can be the ones passing it on to the mum while breastfeeding if they get it first.

    Babies are at an increased risk of oral thrush, because their immune systems are not fully developed.

    What are the symptoms of thrush in mums and babies?

    According to Dr Prudence, breastfeeding mums are likely to have cracked nipples, and experience severe breastfeeding pain when the baby starts to breastfeed, which can improve during the feed and then return shortly after. The nipples are often very sensitive to cold and may become bright red immediately after feeding.

    Babies with thrush may be fussy and seem uncomfortable when they feed. The main sign is a white coating on your baby’s tongue, and usually there will be white patches in the mouth that do not wipe off easily. They can also develop a spotty nappy rash.

    What is the best treatment for thrush if you’re breastfeeding?

    The best treatment for thrush depends on the type of infection you’re dealing with. If you’re suffering from deep breast infection, the best course of action is to treat the condition with a course of antifungal tablets.

    If you only have a skin infection, then thrush can be treated with a cream applied to the nipples after feeding – speak to your GP to assess the best way to treat the condition.

    If your baby is also suffering from thrush, they will probably need to be treated with an oral gel (for mouth thrush) or a cream for nappy area thrush. It will normally begin to settle within a few days of treatment and resolve after 7-10 days. Both mum and baby need to be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection.

    There are also a few other steps that you can take to treat and help prevent reinfection:

    – Wear a clean cotton bra every day, and wash clothes at 50 degrees or higher temperature;
    – Wash everything that comes into contact with the affected area;
    – Replace toothbrushes and any other products that could have been in contact with the affected area, like toiletries or cosmetics;
    – Use sterilising fluid to clean any products that could have been in contact with the fungus;
    – Avoid consuming foods high in sugar and yeast, as this could make the condition worse.

    Can mums still breastfeed if they or their baby are suffering from thrush?

    If you’re worried about continuing to breastfeed your baby while you’re still suffering with thrush, Dr Prudence says mums can safely continue to breastfeeding.

    In fact, it can safer to as research has shown that babies fed with formula are more likely to develop thrush.

    How can mums avoid it?

    If you’re looking to avoid thrush, you should avoid unnecessary antibiotic use as it commonly develops after mum or baby have been treated with them.

    However, Dr Prudence adds: ‘It is a normal part of our body’s bug tapestry and so it is impossible to avoid completely.’

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